Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Friday, October 29, 2010


(The Art of Painting by Jan Vermeer, 1632-1675,
Dutch painter)

Today’s poem is more about the poet than it is about the painting.

Vermeer was a master of the Dutch Golden Age. He worked slowly and carefully, producing fewer than forty paintings that we know of. He is noted for his peaceful and harmonious scenes of domestic life in Delft, featuring the perfect rendering of daylight and the delicate depiction of pensive women.

The painting here is believed to be the only self-portrait of the artist, albeit seen from the back. The woman is posing as Clio, the Greek muse of history, with a laurel wreath on her head and a folio in her hand.

The Art of Painting inspired the poet Robert Lowell to make a personal observation. In his poem, he seems to be struggling to follow Vermeer’s technique in creating an image. He wants to avoid the static snapshot in favor of the artist’s quiet telling of a story.


Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme —
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.

But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

~ Robert Lowell (1917-1977), American poet

The Art of Painting also inspired a surprising comment, in oils, from a painter. The Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dali greatly admired Vermeer. In 1934, he made this image, the very opposite of Vermeer’s realism:

(The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can
Be Used as a Table
by Salvador Dali, 1904-1989)

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